The #71 UCSB men’s tennis team ended its season Saturday with a 4-0 loss to #20 Cal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gauchos (15-11 overall) lost the doubles point and went on to lose three singles matches before play was suspended with Cal having already clinched the 4-0 victory. With a Big West Championship trophy and a multitude of postseason accolades, the end to Santa Barbara’s season could hardly be considered a disappointment.
“I felt like we were getting beat and guys could have folded and been disappointed all together,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “But they didn’t, they scratched back into their matches and in the end I was really pleased.”
Cal took a quick 1-0 lead with a pair of convincing doubles wins. Freshman Bijan Hejazi and junior Elad Stern were defeated 8-3 at #3 doubles and the First Team All-Big West doubles tandem of senior Nick Brotman and sophomore Anders Dalskov lost 8-2, clinching the point for the Golden Bears.
Facing a 1-0 deficit, UCSB needed to rally to win four singles matches. At the #5 spot freshman Scott Hohenstein lost the first set 6-1 and, although he put up a fight in the second set, he was stopped 6-1, 7-5. On court three, Cal senior Lennart Maack defeated Dalskov 6-3, 6-1.
Facing off at #1 singles were a pair of Player of the Year award winners in their respective conferences -Cal senior Conor Niland, the sixth-ranked singles player in the nation and ITA West Region Player of the Year, and Brotman, who had an incredible season in both #1 singles and doubles for the Gauchos. In a highly competitive match, Niland took the first set 6-4. Brotman continued to stay close in the second set but Niland came away with the victory and clinched the 4-0 win for the Golden Bears 6-4, 6-4.
With the win already in the hands of the Golden Bears, play was suspended with a few matches still in action. Hejazi, whose stellar freshman season earned him the Big West Freshman of the Year award, lost a tough first set 7-6 and trailed 4-1 in the second set to Cal junior Tyler Browne.
Also showing a great deal of competitive fire in his first NCAA Tournament match was freshman Max Taylor, who won the first set 6-3 and was tied at a set a piece when play ended. The hero of the Big West Championship against Pacific, Stern lost his first set at #4 singles 6-1, but rallied to nearly take the second set when the action stopped.
“The guys really competed well, I was pleased,” Davis said. “We got off to a slow start in both singles and doubles but then in the second set we had a few matches that were up 4-1 so it looked for a moment like we were right in it.”
On a team where freshmen out-number upperclassmen 6-4, even making the NCAA Tournament is quite an accomplishment for this young squad. With the wealth of young talent, stable returnees Dalskov and Stern, and Big West Coach of the Year, Davis, the Big West Championship looks to be in good hands.
“We were two matches away from making the Sweet 16, so I told the guys how you spend your summer could mean the difference next year in a good season and a historic one,” Davis said.
The Gauchos will take a short break before planning for summer training, during which they hope to work on improving upon what was a terrific season.
“This season was definitely the best for me team-wise,” Stern said. “We gave it a hundred percent all season long and I really enjoyed it a lot.”